AuthorWiktorowicz, Quintan


BOTH SCHOLARS AND POLICY-MAKERS alike represent the relationship between Islamic movements and the state in terms of political conflict. Whether manifested as militant groups or moderate reformists, Islamists are labeled as part of the "opposition." The alternative discourse of legitimization sponsored by Islamists is seen as a central challenge to the stability and survival of incumbent Arab regimes. As a result, a great deal of scholarship attempts to elucidate the potential consequences of Islamic movements for state power.

While it is clear that Islamic movements frequently mobilize against regimes and that the state apparatus is often utilized to circumscribe Islamic activism, such characterizations oversimplify the relationship between Islamists and the state. As several scholars have noted, Islamic movements are not monolithic entities. [1] They are multifaceted and constituted by a variety of different Islamic groups. Struggles over sacred authority, tactics, and Islamic interpretation create important internal movement differences and disagreements. Such divergences, in turn, engender alternative patterns of state-movement interaction, only some of which are predicated upon conflict and struggle. During the 1970s, for example, regimes throughout the region supported Islamists during elections to professional associations to combat the power of Nasserists, Ba'thists, and leftist movements. More recently in Egypt, the Mubarak regime has provided financial support to numerous Islamic Non-Governmental Organizations, which foc us upon the provision of basic goods and services rather than revolutionary change. [2] And in Morocco, the government supports Sufi groups as an alternative to more radical Islamism. [3] All of these examples indicate that the relationship between Islamic movements and the state is not based simply upon conflict. It is more complex and nuanced than the image of "Islam against the state" implies.

Using the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan as a case study, this article argues that the dynamics of Islamic movement-state relations may be characterized more by cooperation than conflict when there is a conjuncture of interests. In Jordan, the regime benefits from Muslim Brotherhood success because as a moderate reform movement it checks other more confrontational social movements and channels Islamic activism into a non-violent agenda. The Muslim Brotherhood, on its part, benefits from organizational opportunities produced by the incumbent regime. State support allows the movement to extend its reach in society and enables the Brotherhood to more effectively deliver its religious message. Though the movement may disagree with policies or articulate opposition, it continues to act through the institutions of the political system without challenging the raison d'etre of state or Hashemite power. In effect, the Brotherhood acts as a "loyal opposition." [4]

This creates what Thomas Schelling refers to as a "coordination game." [5] In this game, each actor cooperates with the other to achieve different ends. The regime seeks to perpetuate its power and control by supporting moderate Islam, while the Muslim Brotherhood hopes to promote a more Muslim society with state support. The Jordanian case study indicates that not all Islamic groups are unequivocal enemies of the state and that mutual interest can lead to cooperation. This support is not constant and the relationship is dynamic, but a complete understanding of state-movement relations necessitates elucidating points of cooperation as well as conflict. In the following sections, I outline the Muslim Brotherhood's moderate approach to religious change, its history of support for the regime, concomitant movement opportunities in society and the state, and independent Islamist views of the Brotherhood-regime relationship.


The Muslim Brotherhood is an Islamic reform movement founded in Egypt in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna. Although it initially began as a movement for the reform of the individual and social morality, its broader political significance grew to challenge secular leadership in Muslim societies. Its strategy of change was to facilitate a more Muslim society through grassroots programs in education, charity, and social activities. Over time, branches of the Muslim Brotherhood were founded in other Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, the Sudan, Kuwait, and Jordan. Although the various Brotherhood branches are connected through shared symbolic and ideological linkages, historical experiences differ and each enjoys administrative independence.

The Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, founded in 1945, is not seeking to destroy the current political system. It proposes reform from within. Statements by leaders and working members of the movement reflect this outlook. Abdul Majid Thunaybat, the current leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, describes the movement's approach to change:

Our approach to education is to begin with the individual and then move on to the family and then ultimately the Islamic government that rules as provided for in God's sharia. Our mission does not envisage an overthrow of the regime in the sense of holding the reigns of power regardless of people's temperament or whether they approve of this regime or not. We seek the creation of faithful grassroots that receive these instructions and this order, and government by Islam comes later.

We renounce violence and say that the alternative is political reform and respect for Islamic sharia, which constitutes the base of powers as approved by all Arab and Islamic constitutions. [6]

Thunaybat's views are echoed by other members of the Muslim Brotherhood. In his outline of the Islamic position on political involvement, Ishaq Farhan, a leader in the Brotherhood, reemphasizes the movement's support for the stability of Jordan and argues that "no matter how much the political stands differ between the Islamic movement and the official stand, things must never end up with using violence and the opposite violence [counter-violence]." [7] Of paramount importance is that the movement supports the "state of law and institutions while adopting the gradual reform means in order to shift towards the application of the Islamic sharia in society." [8] Elsewhere Farhan states that the Brotherhood "will not spill one drop of blood or vandalize any public or private property." This derives from a belief that "Sometimes words speak louder than swords." [9] The Muslim Brothers articulate a gradualist agenda for change that begins with "the Muslim individual, up to the Muslim family, the Muslim community, and then the Muslim State." [10]

The Brotherhood's method of change is not the erection of a new system of politics; it is a reformist strategy of working through the current system to imbue it with more Islamic tones. [11] Leaders in the movement characterize themselves as "reformists, not revolutionaries," and argue that the strategy of change is "evolution, not revolution." [12] It is an attempt to renew the system, not to radically change or alter it. Members of the Brotherhood view themselves as partners with the government in providing social and moral guidance. Bassam Umush echoes these sentiments when he argues that any change should be pursued by "making an effort toward reforming government rather than through an attempt to overthrow the regime." [13] Various members of the movement have labeled their relationship with the regime as one of "peaceful coexistence." [14]

Movement outsiders recognize the peaceful nature of this relationship as well. In a series of articles in the Jordanian Arabic daily, al-Ra'y, numerous observers outside the Muslim Brotherhood describe the relationship between the regime and the movement as one of mutual cooperation. Many further argue that there has never been any real contradiction or confrontation because peaceful coexistence brought "mutual benefit" for both parties. [15] As the next section explains, this rhetoric of moderation is supported by a history of cooperation and loyalty to the political system and regime.


The Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan has never seriously challenged the legitimacy or power of the ruling regime. While the Egyptian Brotherhood experienced violent clashes with President Abd al-Nasser and has been repressed by Presidents Sadat and Mubarak, the Jordanian movement has enjoyed a relatively cordial and cooperative relationship with the Hashemite monarchy. Although moments of tension have surfaced over the years, the relationship has remained one of mutual understanding and cooperation, reinforced by common interests and institutionalized through repeated episodes of interaction. Though earlier years in the relationship witnessed serious disagreements and mutual suspicion, [16] conflict diminished as the result of extended interactional experiences. Each actor has, in essence, learned the limits and objectives of the other. Despite its advocacy of a more Islamic society, the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood has never sought a radical or revolutionary change in political arrangements that would threaten the survival of the regime, nor has it sought the dissolution of monarchical rule. On the contrary, it has actively supported the regime and its claims to legitimacy, and has served as a source of stability throughout Jordan's tumultuous history.

Its relationship with the regime began when the movement was founded in Jordan on 19 November 1945. King Abdullah I, the founder of the kingdom, provided patronage for the inauguration of the general offices and granted the movement legal status in January 1946 as a charitable society. The king was a personal associate of the Jordanian Brotherhood's founder, Abdul Latif Abu Qura, and included the movement's secretary, Abdul Hakim Adin, in the government's cabinet, proclaiming that "Jordan is in need of the...

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